I started teaching at UNCG in my late twenties. I’ve been here a long time. I’ve always been a part-time teacher and that has given me a lot of freedom to pursue other things. I love teaching, but on the side have kept a studio in my house for all my art projects—painting, quilting, book-making, fiction writing. Until two years ago, that was the extent of it, but then I began thinking that I needed to try something new. A friend of mine who runs Greensboro’s only independent bookstore, Glenwood Coffee and Books, was hearing me out one day as I blathered on about getting older, but feeling like there was still a lot left to do. I’d loved acting way back in high school, but had had no experience on stage since then. My friend, Alan Brilliant, told me about an adult puppet theater that he’d attended in the Village in New York back in the 50s, done in a living room with a hand- made stage and puppets. The puppeteers were two aspiring actors who needed an outlet, and started to invite their friends to their salon-style shows. The puppets acted out Noel Coward comedies, the concept took off, and soon people had to jump on the tickets as soon as they could or they would be out of luck. Adult puppet theater? I began to mull this over.
Long story short, a new puppet theater for adults, the Jabberbox Puppet Theater, is already launched in Greensboro, with myself and my dear old friend Marianne Gingher. We met back in the early 70s in the MFA program in creative Writing right here at UNCG. Marianne is now a tenured professor in the Creative Writing program at UNC, and is plenty busy, but when I mentioned doing an adult puppet theater, she hesitated about two seconds before wanting to come on board. We write the plays ourselves and make all the puppets. Every year, we give 20% of our proceeds to a village school in Lumpampa, Zambia where we had traveled together and where the seed sprouted for the plot of our first play, “African Queens.” A neighbor of mine made our portable stage. Did I say that we give you wine and home-made dessert with the ticket price?
We’ll enter our third season in May, 2012. In 2010, “African Queens” ran for 15 performances in May and June, and all of them sold out. Our second play, “Little Town, Big Stars,” ran for 17 performances in 2011 and they sold out, too. While our specialty is doing the shows in our living rooms, we are now expanding. In October 2011, during 17 Days, the United Arts Council’s downtown arts festival, we performed at Mack and Mack on Elm St to bigger audiences. We have a new gig this coming June 2012 at The Garage in Winston-Salem. In addition, we’ll travel, as we’ve done from the beginning, to living rooms and garages of friends in Chapel Hill and Wilmington. We now even have an old van with a bumper sticker: “Puppets in Trunk.”
I’m also happy to say that our grown children have helped us. Marianne’s son guided us around Zambia while he was in the Peace Corps there, introducing us to some memorable characters. Our other kids helped us by making a beautiful website, providing original music, being savvy critics, and traveling from afar to attend our shows and cheer us on. Charlie Headington, my husband and a UNCG teacher, emcees our shows sporting a green polka-dot tie.
Before I end, I’m going to put in a plug for home-grown art—there is so much to do and see right here in Greensboro, on campus, or just a little bit off-campus. You need to support your friends, fellow teachers, and fellow students as we make our entrepreneurial and spirited way in this world of sour economic news. Take a walk on the wild side. Buy local. Put a few bucks down on something different. When the show’s over, stroll the sidewalk home, contemplate the stars and think about what you’d like to do next.